The question that was never asked, what would the love child of a Land Rover and a Jaguar look like, has been answered with the 2012 Range Rover Evoque. Eschewing the brute force of the big Land Rover models, the Evoque proves its worth on asphalt, whether as stylish urban transport or making time over a winding road.
It carries the Land Rover badge, a suggestion of who wears the pants in the family, and boasts off-road capability. It has all-wheel drive and Land Rover's Terrain Response System, which lets the driver select programs for mud, sand, and other difficult surfaces, snow being the most likely for the Evoque's demographic.
An adaptive suspension package is available, but it is a magnetic ride system, the kind that stiffens the shock absorber fluid and provides excellent handling when you're hammering the car through a paved turn. That type of driving is more Jaguar than Land Rover. And the drive selector, a dial that rises up on ignition from the console, is directly from the Jaguar parts bin.
The front of the Evoque carries the Land Rover grille, if on a reduced scale, but the racy side profile retains much of the look of the LRX concept on which the car is based. And the rear window has the sunglasses look of the new Jaguar XJ.
It is a good-looking car, and the interior also more than met my expectations of luxury. The Evoque has a simple and well-ordered interior. Thick leather covers the seats and the metal grilles over the speakers look like serious business. White crystals stud the gauge faces and a piece of glass the size of a door serves for a roof.
Looking forward to some quality driving in the Evoque, I took to the mean streets of San Francisco, the fast-moving freeways of California, and twisty back roads through the coastal range. Cruising the city in Drive mode, not touching the paddle shifters, the first thing I noticed was a tendency of the car to lunge. Trying to maintain a steady pace of about 30 mph, I found slight pushes on the gas pedal had the car making uncontrolled leaps forward.
At first thinking this behavior had to do with turbo lag, the engine being a direct-injection turbocharged 2-liter, I tried different speeds and throttle input. But the real culprit seemed to be the six-speed transmission. Going up one of San Francisco's notorious hills, it could not seem to settle on a gear. I got the sense Land Rover programmed it to downshift at just a little throttle, presumably to satiate the power-hungry type A personalities who buy Land Rovers.
Confirming that suspicion is the fact that I recently tested the Ford Edge EcoBoost, which did not exhibit the same behavior. The connection: Land Rover sources the Evoque's engine from Ford. It is a similar direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder, producing 240 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque.
As in the Edge, the EcoBoost engine helps the Evoque get good fuel economy, better than any other Land Rover model. The EPA rating is 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Over CNET's time with the car, I saw an average of 21.8 mpg.
The tendency to lunge was uncomfortable, but the car was still drivable. And in the dense urban environment, I definitely appreciated its size and excellent turning radius. The ride felt solid, easily soaking up the bumps. There was no softness in the suspension; the tuning felt rigid to give it better cornering performance. As CNET's review car was the low trim, called Pure, it did not have the magnetic suspension control mentioned above, just a fixed system that Land Rover had to tune to the best compromise between sport and comfort.
The higher engine speeds of freeway driving masked any lunging, and the Evoque felt like it would be a nice car for a road trip. Land Rover gives it a full cabin tech suite, although being a smaller company it does not push the envelope as Audi does. The center touch-screen LCD defaulted to a home screen, which came off as a bit cluttered with its large buttons for navigation, audio, and the phone system, alongside smaller buttons for a variety of other functions.
Land Rover gives the various menus and onscreen buttons neat animations, easing transitions between screens but at the same time getting in the way of a quick response. I quickly found the setting that let me turn the animations off. But even with that, the touch screen was often slow to respond to button presses. Even entering an address with the onscreen keyboard involved a little wait time.